First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
The good thing about launching a media start-up just as the industry is going into a nosedive after 50 years of high-margin profitability is that you get accustomed to operating in existential crisis mode.
Some of you may be familiar with Daily Maverick’s journey when, for most of our existence, we barely operated with more than a few months’ cash flow runway. It’s not a strategy we recommend to any person of reasonable disposition. But it does force you to focus on what matters most – our people and our readers. Over the years we’ve invested more in our newsroom, as a percentage of budget, than larger publishers, cutting corners and multitasking just to make sure every looming payroll was made and the highest editorial standards were met.
Now, as we prepare for the next phase of Daily Maverick, we have to interrogate which of the guiding principles that got us to this point still apply as we graduate from a small publisher to medium-sized operator with oversized ambitions.
Words like vision, strategy and goals that seemed “corporatey” now keep popping up as we draft the blueprint for a post-founder-led era. Not that we’re heading off any time soon, but every business has different phases that require something different of the people at the helm. If we are to see an organisation living on successfully beyond our tenure, the helter-skelter nature of start-up has to evolve to ensure that a robust organisation, guided by foundational principles and a clear vision, can operate for decades to come.
We take inspiration from the global media companies that have successfully transformed their operations, like The New York Times, The Guardian and the Financial Times; smaller, membership-driven publishers like elDiario.es in Spain and, of course, outside the media industry, where so many lessons in design thinking and innovation abound from tech companies like Apple, Netflix and Amazon. Each of these organisations has nuggets for us that we need to study and add to our own learnt experiences about how we should design and position Daily Maverick for our next iteration.
Naturally, our situation is a little trickier given the smaller addressable market that we serve and the high-stakes politics that play out on a daily basis.
The threats faced by our team are not garden-variety work stresses – for instance, being investigated by factions of Crime Intelligence being entrusted with a whistle-blower’s identity that could end in termination. Of employment or otherwise. To borrow from NFL coaching folklore, “our best defence is offence”. That means we have to keep growing and investing in the people and processes that can achieve societal impact and change. Every new member that joins in support of our cause helps us build another block on the frontline of defence of our democracy. Every new journalist we employ helps bring new information into the world. And every new reader means the power of information is amplified.
Our next phase will not only be a bigger and stronger Daily Maverick but one more connected to readers that we serve so that we can keep innovating and keep delivering on our public service mandate.
A bigger, stronger Daily Maverick is our best option despite the extra attention and threats it results in. Besides, we’ve poked the bear and there is no going back now. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.